With a test program in the local network of Chabad-Lubavitch preschools and Hebrew schools, a Los Angeles area dance studio is seeking to break new ground in how the Jewish community approaches arts education.

For Hadassah Esther, one of the chief instructors employed by the A Time for Dance studio, the mission is to both communicate underlying Jewish themes in an engaging way and to harness the creative potential of young minds. Her “Dancing Your Way Through the Jewish Year” curriculum draws on her deep background in professional dance performance – she was once honored at New York’s Lincoln Center as part of a young choreographers series – and was shaped and refined by her experiences working in Chabad schools.

The effort is part of a broader curriculum currently in development.

“The course is what is known as an immersion curriculum,” explained Esther, a certified instructor in the Language of Dance Fundamentals Levels I and II and a past performer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center’s junior company and the New York Theatre Ballet. “The teacher gives prompts, but the student is very much involved in the process. You fish for what the students already know, and guide from there.”

Sarah Cunin, co-director of Chabad of Malibu and director of the Gan Malibu Preschool, said that the inclusion of dance into her school’s programming has provided one more creative outlet for students.

“Hadassah Esther is an amazing teacher,” stated Cunin. “Whatever we are learning, we try to bring it alive, and her curriculum really does that. The kids get to experience the Jewish holidays through music and dance.”

For Sheila Meyer, the professional dancer who founded A Time for Dance six years ago, the expansion into area schools dovetails with her effort to expose the wider community to artistic expression. As part of that effort, her studio has sought rabbinic guidance in order to soon launch a professional ensemble company for women.

“There is such a need for this here,” said Meyer, “to be able to study dance in a nurturing environment that is faith-sensitive.”

The dance company will be open to women and girls currently enrolled in the studio’s technique class, and will perform ensembles for women’s only events in the community. Its first major show is slated to be of a new ballet created by Esther and based on Crown of Creation, an examination of biblical women by Chana Weisberg.

A student of A Time for Dance performs.
A student of A Time for Dance performs.

It won’t be acting,” Esther said of the performance. “It won’t be about the narrative of [biblical women’s] lives. It will be about the concepts we learn from them, and how we can apply those lessons to our lives.”

As about the studio’s larger programs continues to spread, teachers suggest that its work with schoolchildren could be making a lasting impact.

“What [Esther] has developed here is really a way for kids to learn with all five of their senses,” said Cunin. “It is different from other approaches to the extent that concepts are ingrained in the students.

“The kids love it,” she added. “They’re learning in a whole new way.”

Said Esther: “The students actually become the choreographers. They are involved in such a way that they really own what they are learning.”